A coupla days ago I put up a quick post in response to another post insinuating that Roger Clemens, like Barry Bonds, may be using steroids. I got a favorable response and thought that I'd put together some facts/opinions/wild-ass guesses about steroids, baseball and baseball players. So here it is.
All right, let's start with what is a steroid? Biochemists define steroids as a four ring hydrocarbon with three six member rings and one five member ring. Here's some things that are steroids: testosterone, vitamin D, cholesterol, androstenedione (andro), cortisone and birth control pills. Some of these steroids will build muscle and decrease fat - like testosterone, some will decrease muscle and increase fat - like cortisone, and some will do neither - like vitamin D and estrogen. There is a continuum of effects for steroids.
Since cortisone became generally available beginning around 1950, you had to get a prescription from your doc to acquire any of the hormonal steroids in the US - much like you would for tetracycline or penicillin. But they were not "controlled substances" - stuff that could get you busted and put in jail - not that is until the Steroid Control Act of 1990 placed anabolic steroids into the Controlled Substances Act. After that they were classified as a Schedule III Controlled Substance. Included in this list is stuff like marijuana, paregoric and barbiturates. So in response to this outlawing of stuff that they considered "safe" muscle-heads started switching to prohomones - stuff that the body turns into anabolic steroids. Like the aforementioned androstenedione. This stuff became verboten with the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004. So when we talk about "illegal" substances we need to know which steroid we're talking about and when they were used. So if Mark McGuire limited his steroid use to andro, he never used an "illegal" steroid while he was hitting all those home runs since andro was not outlawed until January of 2005.
To complicate matters more, biochemists have been working to synthesize steroids that limit the masculinizing effects and maximizing the muscle building effects of anabolic steroids. In the mid 50's they came up with Dianabol, the first of the synthetic anabolic steroids - and the Holy Grail for steroid using weight lifters. This was followed by the development of other synthetic anabolic steroids - all of which promoted muscle development but, unfortunately, still had major unwanted side effects. These synthetics made outlawing anabolic steroids difficult since the steroid control acts list each controlled steroid by name and structure. So when the biochemists would synthesize a new anabolic steroid it had to be added to the list of banned substances by the FDA. This also complicates MLB's attempt to ban steroids - if they ban 100, the chemists will keep synthesizing the 101st.
OK, now we've got some idea of how complex it is to define what an illegal steroid is. Let's look at how you get them to work for you. You have to couple the hormone use with a pretty aggressive weight program and enhance calorie intake to increase your strength. For power lifters, offensive linemen and guys who want to maximize their power they'll do a limited number of lifts with 75% to 100% of their maximum. These guys get huge on steroids, and will usually carry a higher percentage of body fat. Body builders, running backs and baseball players want a high power to weight ratio. So they'll do more reps and sets with weights between 50% and 85% of their max to build muscle and burn fat. All these guys do cycles of hormones coupled with weight training which can lead to remarkable strength and muscle mass gains. But just like everything else - some guys get bigger and stronger than other guys doing the same hormone/weight program.
A brief word about how guys get caught up with steroids. Most guys who start weight training go into the gym for the first 4-10 weeks and make pretty good gains. Then their progress will naturally slow down or even stop and they'll look for suggestions from other guys who've been lifting weights for some time and they'll pick up tips on different lifts and routines. And then they'll hear about diets - more protein, maybe steaks, lean protein like chicken/fish and then maybe protein supplements like whey protein. Then he finds out that some of the guys in the gym are adding creatine or vitamins or other supplements to their regimen - stuff you can buy at GNC. All of this is completely legal and sanctioned by all of pro sports as well as the Olympics today. Well up until 2002 you could buy andro at GNC - they stopped selling it about then when medical concerns when first raised - just like vitamin B or creatine. How the hell was McGuire or Sosa or Bonds for that matter supposed to know in 2000 that in 2004 andro would be outlawed? Now the Olympics had banned the use of andro before then, but I think that you can see how an athlete could become confused about what and when a particular steroid precursor is banned or not. After all guys are still getting cortisone shots for muscle inflammation. Yes, yes, I know - professional athletes have trainers and what not to direct them, but after all these guys are little more than that guy in the gym who gives advice. In fact, I see these trainers as a lot more like a NASCAR chief mechanic trying to operate just inside the regulations to get the most out of his vehicle/player - and, some of them anyway, trying not to get caught.
All right how can you tell when a guy is using anabolic steroids? This is where it gets tough. Here's a picture of Steve Reeves from ca 1955. The reason I want you to see this is to see what kind of muscle development you can achieve without steroids. Mr. Reeves probably spent 40 hours a week lifting weights for at least a decade to look like this but it's what is possible without steroids. Now here's the kind of grotesque muscle development that you can only achieve with anabolic steroids. I think you get the idea.
As to the "look" there are essentially three body or somatypes: ectomorph -hips and shoulder roughly the same diameter - little body fat, endomorph - pear shaped torso, high fat to muscle ratio, and mesomorph - apple shaped torso high muscle to fat ratio. Everybody is some combination of these body types. Many of us will evolve from one type to another over the course of our lives. Most of us go from ecto or meso to endo as we age.
OK what about Bonds? If you look at him in '85 here he's an ecto with some meso qualities. Narrow through the hips, fairly wide shoulders, wirery arms, medium neck, legs more (relatively) developed than his arms. Looks like he's gonna be mostly an ecto/meso for most of his adult life. In fact he looks a lot like his dad here. You would expect him to look a lot like that - without the weight training - as he gets older. Now look at him here in 2003. First of all his arms are huge as well as his neck. This guy is just big. His body fat, as a percentage has decrease although - and I'm guessing here - he's gone from 170/180 to 225/235. And it ain't fat. This boy's mostly meso now.
Now look at Roger Clemens in 1985 here. More pear than apple shaped, although you can tell he's working to control the weight. BBBBBBig lower half -big thighs, calves and butt. Round in the middle but still has good size shoulders. He's 6'3" maybe 6'4" weighs 200-215. Endo with some meso tendencies. Now look at him here in 2005. Bigger sure - 240 maybe. But the proportions haven't change that much. No real dramatic increase in muscularity. Most of the weight gain looks like normal aging - at least to me.
Now if I was gonna pick a candidate for long term anabolic steroid use it would be Julio Franco. If you look at Julio here when he came up he's, what - 6' maybe 160-170. And skinny - no real muscle development - all ecto. Look at him here. Same height but he's 210 and all muscle. Now maybe he did this all in the gym - I don't know. But that's the kind of body development that screams 'roids to me.